IS­RAEL’S BAP­TISM OF FIRE

In­creas­ingly, Fo­lau’s re­li­gious be­liefs are front and cen­tre as ca­reer of gifted foot­baller takes back seat

The Sunday Telegraph (Sydney) - - RUGBY -

The Waratahs’ gi­ant South African lock, Le Roux Roets, paid a visit to Is­rael Fo­lau’s fam­ily home at Ken­thurst last week­end. It wasn’t to talk tac­tics or dis­cuss op­po­nents. Roets was there to be bap­tised in the chlo­ri­nated back­yard pool. Fo­lau and his fa­ther Eni have set up The Truth of Je­sus Christ with the con­gre­ga­tion of­ten gath­er­ing on the fam­ily’s back porch to watch new mem­bers be­ing im­mersed in the wa­ter.

This is life for Fo­lau now as his foot­ball ca­reer takes an in­creas­ingly back seat to a de­vo­tion to his religion that has turned fun­da­men­tal­ist — tak­ing the strict, lit­eral in­ter­pre­ta­tion of scrip­tures.

He de­liv­ers the “youth ser­mons” of­ten. He is #TeamJe­sus. But his views about ho­mo­sex­u­al­ity look likely to cost him the ca­reer that has made him a house­hold name and mil­lions of dol­lars.

Fo­lau’s In­sta­gram post, which could trig­ger the end of his in­cred­i­ble foot­ball ca­reer, stated that “hell awaits” drunks, ho­mo­sex­u­als, adul­ter­ers, liars, for­ni­ca­tors, thieves, athe­ists and idolaters.

What has tran­spired since Fo­lau up­loaded the In­sta­gram post shows a clear in­sight as to where the foot­baller is at — which is firmly on his “Lord Je­sus Christ’s” side.

“Is­rael has changed, peo­ple change, this is big­ger than sport now,” said a source who knows Fo­lau well.

Over the past few days, as con­tro­versy has raged around Fo­lau, he de­fi­antly said he has “no re­grets”.

Fo­lau didn’t re­turn Rugby Aus­tralia chief Rae­lene Cas­tle’s calls on Wed­nes­day night when he first posted his hellish-themed mes­sage. He didn’t re­turn them on Thurs­day, ei­ther.

His attitude also showed when RA sent wel­fare peo­ple over to his house to talk to him and, al­though

in­side, Fo­lau didn’t open the door.

By Fri­day, Cas­tle had man­aged to se­cure a meet­ing with Fo­lau. It was brief.

It is un­der­stood Fo­lau did not back down from his views and did not apol­o­gise.

A source said Cas­tle’s lead­er­ship has been clear, swift, strong and bal­anced in con­trast to the last Fo­lau in­ci­dent a year ago when he stated that ho­mo­sex­u­als would go to “HELL”.

The RA chief ex­ec­u­tive has been in con­stant con­tact with Fo­lau’s man­ager Isaac Moses from the mo­ment she be­came aware of the post on Wed­nes­day night, even though the Wal­laby didn’t bother to re­turn her calls.

RA’s joint state­ment with the NSWRU was strong and drilled home that Fo­lau had “failed to un­der­stand that the ex­pec­ta­tion of him as a Rugby Aus­tralia and NSW Waratahs em­ployee” and that he can’t share “ma­te­rial on so­cial me­dia that con­demns, vil­i­fies or dis­crim­i­nates against peo­ple on the ba­sis of their sex­u­al­ity”.

RA has said its in­ten­tion is to “ter­mi­nate” his con­tract and it could be an abrupt end to a stun­ning ca­reer that has seen him play pro­fes­sional foot­ball in three codes, rep­re­sent­ing the Kan­ga­roos and the Wal­la­bies as well as a dal­liance with the AFL’s GWS Giants. Fo­lau con­tin­ues to de­fi­antly fight for his $4 mil­lion-plus foot­ball ca­reer.

A year ago, af­ter Fo­lau’s first “gays will go to hell in­ci­dent’’, there were also about half a dozen NRL clubs cir­cling Fo­lau’s man­age­ment ready to sign him, re­gard­less of his views, if RA was to sever ties.

It wasn’t the same this time. On Thurs­day, ARL Com­mis­sion chair­man Peter Beat­tie made it clear Fo­lau wouldn’t be welcome in rugby league.

“Is­rael Fo­lau fails the NRL’s in­clu­sive­ness cul­ture, which is a pol­icy strongly sup­ported by the ARLC,” Beat­tie said in a state­ment.

This is the way it is these days. Fo­lau wouldn’t be welcome in any other foot­ball code he has played be­cause of his views.

Prom­i­nent gay ath­letes have spo­ken about the harm caused and pain in­flicted when high-pro­file celebri­ties es­pouse ex­treme views.

“It’s this kind of ig­no­rance that con­trib­utes to the dis­pro­por­tion­ately high rates of de­pres­sion, anx­i­ety and sui­cide among young LGBTI peo­ple,” wrote the openly gay Aus­tralian rules foot­baller Ja­son Ball.

“Words mat­ter. They have the power to lift us up but they also have the power to cause enor­mous dam­age.”

It’s the truth. It os­tracises al­ready marginalised young peo­ple.

The events of last week and the past few months have demon­strated that amaz­ing foot­ballers can no longer get by on just tal­ent. Their flaws, bad be­hav­iour, are no longer ig­nored or tol­er­ated. There is a new stan­dard ex­pected of our sports stars and sport­ing lead­ers.

On a purely busi­ness level, in an age of bil­lion-dol­lar TV rights deals, spon­sors pour­ing in mil­lions of dol­lars into codes, em­ploy­ers are ex­pect­ing their em­ploy­ees to be­have sen­si­bly with de­cency and in­clu­sive­ness.

It shouldn’t be that hard? Should it? Be­cause, in in­stances such as Fo­lau’s, there are vul­ner­a­ble young lives at risk.

FROM the start, Fo­lau’s de­vo­tion has al­ways been to his fam­ily and religion.

More than 10 years ago, I in­ter­viewed a 19-year-old Fo­lau on Coogee Beach. He was on the cusp of mov­ing back to Bris­bane (from the Storm) to be close to his fam­ily.

He signed a re­ported $1.6 mil­lion con­tract over four years and, as al­ways, he gave his par­ents nearly all of his wage.

“I’m not re­ally fazed by how much money I get,” Fo­lau said then.

As for religion, the Fo­laus were de­vout Mor­mons be­fore switch­ing to Assem­blies of God in 2011.

Eleven years af­ter that in­ter­view, mar­ried now to net­baller Maria, his de­vo­tion is still to fam­ily and they are all de­voted to their The Truth of Je­sus Christ Church in Ken­thurst.

Waratahs player Le Roux Roets is bap­tised in the Fo­lau fam­ily’s back­yard pool and (right) Is­rael Fo­lau. Pic­tures: Getty Images

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